The cellar door may be new, but its stone walls are clearly old. Very old. “This was built 150 years ago as a grain store,” says Justine Henschke, whose ancestor, Johann Christian Henschke, built it with his own hands. The fact that the structure is still standing is testament to the Henschke family’s habit of doing things properly.
Johann was the first Henschke to plant grapes in the Barossa; his descendants have built a global reputation with wines such as Hill of Grace shiraz, one of Australia’s flagship wines. Currently at the helm are fifth-generation winemaker Stephen and his viticulturist wife Prue, but their children, including Justine and her winemaker brother, Johann, are also deeply involved.
Justine Henschke leads me into an elegant room kitted out with Persian carpets and striking light fittings – “Mum is obsessed by auction sites,” she laughs – to sample some of their wines.
Many of those wines are named after family members, such as the velvety Cyril cabernet sauvignon, which honours Justine’s grandfather, and the steely Julius Riesling, for Great-Uncle Julius, who was also a talented sculptor.
Other wine names pay tribute to the area’s heritage. The Rosegrower, for instance – a nebbiolo that, depending on which Henschke you ask, tastes either of “rose petals and earth” (Justine) or “rusty bucket” (Stephen) – is named after another pioneering family, the Roeslers. (Roesler in German means “rosegrower”.)
And what about the Henschkes’ most famous wine, Hill of Grace – a wine so revered that a bottle of the 2014 vintage sells for $845, while the 1991 vintage sells for an extraordinary $1125? Well, that’s named after the place where it was grown: on the Hill of Grace.
What is most astounding about the Henschkes having six generations of winemakers is that, in the Barossa, there is nothing unusual about it at all. The area’s first settlers – German migrants fleeing religious persecution who arrived 160 years ago – were soon joined by English farmers. Many of those early families are still making wine in the area today, from the Seppelts of Seppeltsfield to the Smiths of Yalumba.
“The story of settlement here is unlike the story of settlement anywhere else in Australia,” says Jess Greatwich of Krondorf Creek Farm. Belonging to another long-time Barossa clan, Greatwich not only helps runs the Barossa’s smallest cellar door – she and her partner, James, have just eight hectares under vine – but has also done extensive research into the area’s history.
“Entire villages came out from Germany,” she says, and the areas they settled in the Barossa “were neatly laid out so that everyone had the same access to resources such as water”. These were pre-existing farming communities transported to the other side of the world, and they worked together to survive in this alien environment.
That sense of community is still evident in the Barossa today – you get the sense, everyone is in this together. And everyone seems to be connected to everyone else, as we discover late one afternoon when we stop in at the petite David Franz Cellar Door.
This picturesque place make superb semillons and muscats, and you can put together a picnic from the small bites on offer – everything from chicken parfait to aged cheddar to pork and duck rillettes. The winemaker is David Lehmann, son of legendary Barossa winemaker Peter Lehmann. (David’s brother, Philip, also has his own winery nearby, called Max & Me.)
That’s just the start. Kayley, who is pouring our drinks, is married to Kyle Johns, the head chef at Three75 Bar + Kitchen, where we recently enjoyed some simply stellar burgers. On Friday evenings, Kayley tells us, David Franz hosts a Supper Club, with a four-course meal prepared by Tim Bourke – who happens to be the chef at The Farm Eatery, where we have just had lunch.
The Farm is an essential stop for food lovers. Overlooking a tree-fringed dam, this casual eatery is run by Elli Beer, daughter of food legend Maggie. Alongside her more casual menu, Beer has just launched a four-course Pheasant Farm degustation which pays tribute to two of Maggie’s most famous dishes, her chicken liver pate and pheasant pie, which may well be one of the most delicious meals on offer in the Barossa.
Mind you, there is plenty of competition for that title. Long before the Barossa became known for its wine, it was a food-growing region, producing crops of stone fruit that were in demand across the country. These days, the Saturday morning Barossa Farmers Market is the place to sample delicacies that are literally fresh from the farm.
As you graze your way around the stalls, pick up some cardamom buns at the Eleni Barossa Hand-Made stand and pack some goodies to take home with you. Michael Wohlstadt’s pork and fennel sausages are superb, as is his bacon.
The area’s restaurants offer some of the best regional dining in Australia. Along with The Farm and elegant fine diner FermentAsian, the winery restaurant Hentley Farm, housed in a gorgeous converted stable, is also a highlight. From the moment the amuse-bouches – perhaps a puffed quinoa cracker topped with curry leaf, curry spiced lemon and a lightly poached quail egg – are served, you know you are in for a special meal.
Just as outstanding is Appellation, the degustation-only diner at The Louise luxury lodge. One striking course follows another, from Coffin Bay oysters served with gin, dill and salmon roe, to an addictive charred cauliflower in a sweetcorn cream. The service is just as outstanding as the food. As I take my seat, I mention to the waiter that I have a slight headache; a moment later, she’s back with a tissue soaked with lavender oil, to help me clear my head. (It works.)
And just when I think I’ve had my most memorable meal, along comes breakfast with the kangaroos. You will need to set your alarm for this experience, exclusive to The Louise’s guests. Munch on fresh fruit and savoury muffins with a glass of sparkling shiraz as wild roos graze around you in the dew-drenched bush – as a way to start the day, it is several steps above tea and toast.
If you find yourself craving a break from food and wine, how about a glass of gin instead? At Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers, the Barossa’s first commercial gin distillery, Nicole Durdin’s spirits will please even non-gin drinkers.
“I had some friends who told me, ‘I don’t like gin’. I said, ‘Leave it to me,” she laughs. She explains that most gin-averse people actually dislike the taste of juniper, the dominant note in London dry-style gins. “My house gin has fresh orange and grapefruit peel in there, along complex floral flavours like elderflower, chamomile and blue cornflower,” she says.
We sit down to taste the range: first drinking it neat, then over ice and finally with tonic, enjoying the subtle way each addition changes the flavour. Durdin sources many of her ingredients locally, from the pink peppercorns that feature in her Barossa dry gin to her grapefruit peel. She steams the citrus rather than boiling it. “It’s just the same as brussels sprouts – the flavour is completely different if you boil them or steam them,” says Durdin.
Her most distinctive drop is the Barossa shiraz gin, a mellow gin with a rich purple colour that would rival whisky as a warming winter drink. In summer, “pour it into a big jug with ice and tonic, add some orange, strawberry and mint, and you have a great substitute for sangria”, she says.
Durdin is another sixth-generation Barossan who wandered as far afield as London before returning home. “There are newcomers who are bringing new energy, but there also many people of my vintage who have gone out and seen the world and come back with exciting ideas,” she says. “We treasure our heritage; being away has opened our eyes to what a special place the Barossa is, and what it could become.”
Did you know
The Barossa Valley is home to 150 wineries and 80 cellar doors. The Barossa Zone (which includes Eden Valley) is responsible for 10 per cent of Australia’s total wine production.
Take me there
Drive: The Barossa Valley is about 70 minutes’ drive from Adelaide.
Tour: If you prefer not to drive, Barossa Taste Sensations offers transfers and tours. See barossatastesensations.com. Walk One of Australia’s longest walking tracks, the Heysen Trail, passes through the Barossa. A highlight of the 24-kilometre section between Pewsey Vale and Tanunda is the scenic bushscapes of the Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Area.
Stay: The Louise is the area’s best accommodation, its indulgent suites overlooking the vineyards. The lodge boasts a swimming pool and two of the Barossa’s best restaurants. Its staff can arrange activities from winery visits to bushwalks. From $585 per night including breakfast. See thelouise.com.au
Explore more: barossa.com